The Tiger Rising Parent Guide
As if the bullying of a child isn't bad enough, the movie also embraces awful pop psychology.
Parent Movie Review
Living in a motel room with his grief-stricken, widowed father (Sam Trammell), ten-year-old Rob Horton (Christian Convery), spends his time wistfully day-dreaming of his mom and carving beautiful wooden sculptures. He’s also busy scratching his legs, which are covered with a red rash that gets him sent home from school. With time to explore the nearby woods, Rob makes an unexpected discovery: a caged tiger living on land owned by Beauchamp (Dennis Quaid), his father’s odious employer.
Rob brings his friend Sistine (Madalen Mills) to see the tiger and the two children start hatching plans to liberate the powerful animal. This is a worrying plot development because the kids never consider the danger to the community of having an alpha predator prowling the nearby woods. While valuing animal welfare is praiseworthy, the script never sees the children consult with any adults who could help them find appropriate organizations to secure the tiger’s wellbeing while protecting the town. Their choice is strictly binary: keep the big cat caged or let it run free.
The plot then takes a turn that will worry parents even further, since the villain appears to be operating out of a child predator’s playbook. Beauchamp approaches Rob and tells him not to tell his father. (Red flag #1. Children should never keep adult’s secrets.) Then he insists that Rob get in his car and go to the woods with him because he’s the boss and Rob must do what he says. (Red flag #2. Children should never feel pressured to get in an adult’s vehicle.) He takes Rob to the tiger’s cage and offers to pay him to feed the animal. (Red flag #3. No child should ever feel obligated to do something dangerous at an adult’s behest.) Watching Beauchamp bully and manipulate Rob filled me with red hot rage. Parents who have done their best to street-proof their kids will also be appalled when Rob gets into Beauchamp’s car. This is not a movie most parents will want their kids to watch for this scene alone – but if yours see it somewhere else, it can become a catalyst for discussions about personal safety.
If the child exploitation in the story isn’t bad enough, the script is also chock full of excruciatingly bad pop psychology. The movie’s overarching motif is releasing ourselves from cages – Rob from grief, Sistine from anger, Sam from despair – and the tiger’s situation is supposedly emblematic of the human need to step out of the cages that we build to protect ourselves. Learning to be honest about our emotions and to be open to others are indeed valuable emotional skills but comparing human emotions to freeing a major predator near a population center is a bridge too far for me. Also aggravating is the insistence of the motel chambermaid (Queen Latifah) that Rob’s legs will be cured as soon as he faces his feelings: she asserts that his sorrow is trapped in his legs and will only be released when he acknowledges his loss. This story arc legitimizes quack pseudo-medicine in the minds of child viewers and is unhelpful.
Also subpar is the movie’s acting. Young Christian Convery is suitably waif-like and in the hands of a more skilled director would have turned in a better performance. Madalen Mills is convincingly wounded, angry, and arrogant, but, again, a more nuanced performance would improve the film. As for Dennis Quaid, there’s no excuse for his over-the-top, scenery-chewing performance. Queen Latifah is, as usual, grounded and warm, but nothing can save some of her dialogue.
Overall, The Tiger Rising is a big disappointment. It’s based on a novel by Kate DiCamillo and her other books have been adapted into some fine family films. With its dreadful messaging, mediocre acting, and poor script, this movie isn’t going rise on to that favored list.Directed by Ray Giarratana. Starring Katharine McPhee, Dennis Quaid, Queen Latifah. Running time: 102 minutes. Theatrical release January 21, 2022. Updated January 17, 2022
Watch the trailer for The Tiger Rising
The Tiger Rising
Rating & Content Info
Why is The Tiger Rising rated PG? The Tiger Rising is rated PG by the MPAA Rated PG for thematic elements, language and brief violence.
Violence: Kids verbally bully each other, throw fruit at one another, and shove and punch. A man talks about killing and skinning a tiger. An angry man throws items around a room. A child imagines a man exploding. An animal is shot off screen and its dead body is visible; a man is seen holding a gun. Men have a physical fight; one pulls a gun on the other.
Sexual Content: Naked men are seen in classical artwork from the Sistine Chapel. There’s mention of an extramarital affair. A girl kisses a boy on the cheek.
Profanity: There are a half dozen terms of deity and two minor curse words.
Alcohol / Drug Use: None noted.
Page last updated January 17, 2022
The Tiger Rising Parents' Guide
What do you think Rob and Sistine should have done when they saw the tiger? How could they free the tiger while also keeping their town safe?
Do you think animals belong in zoos? What are the benefits of zoos, particularly for species facing extinction? Are those benefits worth caging the animals?
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Kate DiCamillo is a Newbery Award winning author and has written The Tale of Despereaux, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, The Magician’s Elephant, Because of Winn-Dixie,and Flora & Ulysses,